Denise Vega and Rock On!

March 5, 2012

This season’s interview highlights Denise Vega and her fabulous, young adult novel, ROCK ON. It  released today!

Denise Vega is the award-winning author of six books for kids, from toddler to teen, including her “blog” books: Click Here (to find out how i survived seventh grade) – a Colorado Book Award winner – and the sequel Access Denied (and other eighth grade error messages), as well as the award-winning Fact of Life #31 and of course, ROCK ON. Denise rocks out in Denver with her family where she loves to hike, walk, swim, read, eat French fries and avoid cheese at all costs.
Where did you get the idea for the novel?

I had been trying to figure out a way to write about my love of rock music and I also wanted to write about brothers as I watched my three sisters and various friends deal with their sons (I have a son and two daughters). There’s an interesting dynamic –fighting, shoving, etc but also a lot of love and loyalty between them, which is expressed in different ways. I wanted to capture that dynamic. And even though I can’t sing or play an instrument (does the kazoo count?), I wanted to write from the point of view of a high school guitarist who is also a singer-songwriter; at the very least I knew I could relate to the creative process. The rest came from observing the musicians around me.

Have you always been a writer and how did you get your start?

I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but back then I also thought I’d like to be a vet, a firefighter, and an actor! I took creative writing classes in high school and college and majored in film and television, where I learned about structure and dialogue. I started writing my first novel in my mid-twenties, while working full time to pay back student loans. I got some greeting card copy published, business and computer articles and books, short puzzles and games for kids magazines before getting my first short story published in NEWFANGLED FAIRY TALES in 1997. I wrote five novels before my sixth one—CLICK HERE (to find out how i survived seventh grade)—was published in 2005.

What did you have to research for this book?

Even though my dad, brother, and brother-in-law all play guitar and another brother-in-law plays the drums, I had to learn more details about the instruments. I also had to find out how a guitar might arrive at a store from the manufacturer since there is a scene in the book when the main character, Orion Taylor, gets the Les Paul electric he’s been saving for for months. Thanks to Guitar Center in Denver for helping me out with that! I also did some research on deafness since the bass player in my book, Gwyn Farcosi, is deaf.
Who’s your favorite character and why?

Of course I love them all, especially Ori, Jane “Halyn” Garfield (the love interest) and brother Del! It was fun to create the online personas for the characters who write on the band’s blog. I had to give each one a distinctive personality using just a few words, and that was fun as well as a challenge. I also loved writing Gwyn because I so admire Evelyn Glennie, a deaf percussionist, who was the basis for Gwyn’s character. It was important to me that Gwyn’s deafness not define her; it’s just one aspect of who she is.

What part was most difficult to write?

I really struggled with the climax because I knew it had to involve Ori’s brother, Del, and needed to be a dramatic moment between them. In a previous version, the scene was a little over-the-top in terms of the action so my editors gave me some suggestions and I ended up rewriting that scene completely and reworking a scene between Ori and Del that shows their relationship a little better.

Also, I really struggled with an earlier draft of the book and after my critique group gave me feedback, I realized I was trying to tell two stories in one. I ended up starting completely over, pulling in scenes when they worked, but mostly writing a new book with the focus on the brothers. The other storyline will be the basis for a different novel.
What are you working on now?

I am working on another novel for teens that contains a paranormal element, which has been fun. I did hit a wall about a month ago and am taking a break from it, but will be picking it back up again soon.

I’m also working on marketing for ROCK ON. We are finalizing a song from the book that people will be able to download, I’m working on a book trailer, and the website from the book which will go live when the book is released March 5.
When and where do you write?

I write at all times of the day and evening, often in my office where I have a nice big window that lets in a lot of natural light, wonderful art on the walls, and inspiring icons and trinkets nearby. However, I received a MacBook Air for Christmas so now I’m writing in a lot of locations – the kitchen, family room, at various public libraries…it seems to help to be in different places and I love having that option. I use Syncplicity to keep my files current on my laptop and desktop so I don’t have to move files back and forth between them with a flash drive.
What do you do when you get writer’s block?

Usually I move to a different project. When I got blocked on my current novel, I switched to a toddler book I’d been working on and also a chapter book for ages 7-9. Both are so completely different from the teen novel and that helped get my mind off the other book. I think in another week or so I will be ready to return to the novel, hopefully with a fresh eye and lots of enthusiasm!

Do you prefer to write on the computer or free hand and how do you edit?

When I first start a book I usually jot notes freehand, but as soon as the ideas start to flow I switch to the computer because I can keep up with my thoughts better since I type faster than I write. As for editing, I’m working hard to break my habit of revising and/or editing as I write a first draft – it’s a very unproductive method for someone who tends to made drastic changes in her books. By the time I get to the end, all of the revisions I made have to change again! Now as I’m writing, I’m making notes about things that need to be considered so when I finish that draft, I’ve got a roadmap. I review my notes, and then pick up the ms and start marking it up. I will revise anywhere from three to five or more times until I feel like it’s ready to go to my critique group.
What are three of your favorite books?

No way can I do that! However, I can tell you some books I read recently that I loved: DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor (beautifully, brilliantly written and full of twists—very imaginative), BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys (gorgeous writing, heart-wrenching), BRUISER by Neal Shusterman (thought-provoking and evocative, more great writing).

Suggestions for writers:


Write what moves you, angers you, thrills you – don’t write to any trends because those come and go. Be original and don’t give up! The changing face of publishing can be daunting and confusing, but there’s always a place for excellent writing and good, unique stories.

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